Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Seminaries Branching Out and Grafting In

On the seminaries becoming mobile theme it is interesting to see how some seminaries are multiplying their effectiveness and increasing their student numbers and multicultural mix by growing branches that stretch over national regions and across international borders.

The seminary that excels in sprouting branches is the Malaysian Baptist Theological Seminary (MBTS). I have had the privilege of leading their New Year retreat for their staff and students and I was impressed with their international community and they way every word in chapel, the lecture theatre and the dining room was translated from Chinese to English or English to Chinese. Courses are also taught in Bahasa Malay, which represents a further way of crossing borders.

Trunks and Branches
Thomas Chin writes about the emergence of ‘branches’ that grow from the seminary ‘trunk’ in Penang, Malaysia. In addition to the branch at Klang Valley (Kuala Lumpur) the Malaysian Baptist Theological Seminary (MBTS) is seeking to take the seminary to people, especially in remote places where there are not many opportunities for people to get a theological education.

The seminary currently has ten branches in other countries with another eight being finalised. Faculty staff members in Penang are encouraged to spend several weeks each year teaching in one or more of the branches. This is a strategic way of reaching a large and growing group of people who otherwise would not be able to experience a seminary education.

Mission not a ‘Money Spinner’
More students do not necessarily bring about more income from fees as these branches are extending into countries where the church is poor. Consequently the seminary at home base is normally subsidising or covering the entire cost of the student fees as well as paying for airfares to fly in teachers to conduct intensives. Funds are often raised specifically for extension work like this in other countries.

There are several other seminaries that are growing international ‘branches’ like MBTS, often to equip people of their own culture who have joined the great Diaspora of people who have left home to work and send money home.

Many of these ‘branches’ extend into countries where there is not the freedom to learn and teach, hence, the unspecific nature of this article.

Grafting
In addition to seminaries intentionally sprouting branches in the ‘uttermost parts’, there are ‘Macedonian calls’ of help and requests from small and fragile learning centres that they be grafted into a stronger seminary. This involves an adjustment but provides them with greater resources such as access to teachers and accredited degree programmes.

e.g.
Got an example of how you are training the ‘branches’ of your seminary to extend into other regions? Anyone had any experience of grafting a smaller learning centre into your school or having been grafted into a bigger institution?

Dr. Geoff Pound

Images: Grafting can add colour and rich fruitfulness; Thomas Chin of MBTS.